Writers on Writing with Jeff Thomson

PSYCH 666; The Psychology of Character

The psychiatrist (and Scotsman) R. D. Laing once said schizophrenic behavior makes sense to the schizophrenic, or words to the effect. He also said “Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred percent,” so perhaps we should take his words with a grain of salt. Be that as it may, what he meant was that no matter how bizarre or unhinged a person’s behavior might seem to those not so afflicted, somewhere deep inside the cosmic soup of their psyche, it makes sense to them.

            Pulling ourselves back from the brink of drooling insanity, any psychological quirk one may have, such as a fear of flying, can be understood if we figure out what underlying purpose it serves to the person who has it. The fear can be regarded as rational (to a degree) in so far as one is zipping through the air at several hundred miles per hour while trapped inside a metal tube, and if God meant for us to fly he’d have given us wings. So a certain degree of fear makes sense. We also know flying is statistically safer than driving a car (particularly in you live in Los Angeles), so if the fear causes problems in a person’s ability to function in modern society, then it means they have issues. In this case, it has long been established that the phobia is actually masking a fear of not being in control. Understanding this, then, is the gateway to eliminating the issue.

            With me so far?

            To finally get to the point, what this means to us as writers of fiction is that it doesn’t matter how bizarre we make our characters behave, provided this behavior makes sense to them and it remains psychologically consistent throughout the story. Allow me to provide you with three examples: Stephen King’s Trashcan Man, from The Stand, JK Rowling’s Luna Lovegood, and Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lector.

            Trashy is certifiable. No doubt about it. So much so, he spent time at the nut hatch in Terra Haute, where he received shock treatments after setting fire to Old Lady Semple’s Social Security check. He hears voices and has visions. At no point in the story does he seem as if he’s playing with a full deck. At the same time, however, what he does always makes sense to him. He never questions it, and neither do we.

            Luna Lovegood is quite possibly my favorite character in the Harry Potter saga. The girl is an unashamed and unapologetic wing nut. She, also, never questions it. If anything, she leans into it, and we are left to shake our heads in entertained wonder. We believe her character.

            And then there’s Hannibal the Cannibal. Talk about letting your crazy out to play! He appears in three different novels, and remains consistent throughout. At no point do we question whether or not he questions his own behavior. I doubt any of you reading this knows what it’s like to be a cannibal from personal experience. At least I hope not. If you do, kindly keep your fava beans away from me. Be that as it may, however, we enjoy his character because we know he enjoys being himself.

            So there you have it, my two cents worth on the psychology of character. I can expand on this at a later time, if you like, but for now, this will do. As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

About the Author

A fourteen-year veteran of the USCG, Jeff Thomson served as a navigator on four different ships and as SAR Controller at two Group Operations Centers. He is currently retired from his life as an over-the-road truck driver, which was not the most conducive writing environment, and yet, he managed to write the majority of his first novel, a bit of his second, and a chunk of his third, using his steering wheel as a desk. He is now writing full time (on an actual desk), and currently working on the second and third books in his Epic Mayhem series. Book Two, Body Count is available for preorder now. Release date, Halloween 2022.


Follow me on Twitter: Jeff Thomson@JSThomson2021

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar